Evoking Emotion :The Visual Rhetoric of World War II Propaganda
In our media-dominated culture we are constantly bombarded by visual rhetoric and every image we look at leaves some form of influence on us. The instant that we see an image, whether it is a poster, billboard, or picture, we form unconscious biases in our minds. This is the goal of most visual rhetoric, to elicit a response. Visual rhetoric, the use of images to influence or persuade an audience, is used countless times each day but goes unnoticed by most people. One of the most famous and most successful uses of visual rhetoric is found in propaganda posters during World War II. Government-employed artists designed these posters to persuade people to buy war bonds and enlist in the armed forces, among other things. These images depicted determined and patriotic soldiers raising flags or carrying children home to their parents. In this paper, I will illustrate the use of visual rhetoric during the Second World War to demonstrate the mechanics of visual persuasion, of which most people have little understanding. Drawing on the scholarship of Rick Williams, a visual communications scholar, I will analyze several propaganda posters to demonstrate the role of the effectiveness of visual rhetoric while increasing the understanding of how images influence people. Increasing public understanding of visual rhetoric will not only increase the awareness of the many influences people encounter daily. It will also lead to more logical and unbiased decisions due to people recognizing propaganda efforts of the media and interest groups and therefore rationalizing the issues instead of letting emotion control one’s thoughts and actions. I claim that visual rhetoric has a profound, yet unnoticed, effect on our culture.
Lucerna, Volume 8, Number 1, pages 67-79